F5 Supports ISA Server

Established hardware load balancing vendor F5 Networks Inc. on Thursday said it will support and interoperate with Microsoft's enterprise firewall and Web caching software, known as Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000.

Microsoft's public blessing of F5's announcement represents a case where the software giant is embracing a relationship with a partner that sells a technology that competes with its own.

The hardware load balancing performed by F5's BIG-IP product line is similar to the software load balancing offered by Microsoft's Network Load Balancing service, available in Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. That technology has been around since 1999, and was originally called Web Load Balancing Service.

According to analyst firm Meta Group, however, the enterprise market for software load balancing seems to be on its way out.

Tightening a relationship with a respected player in the hardware load balancing market could be a positive step for Microsoft customers. Meanwhile, the Network Load Balancing service does not product direct revenues for Redmond because it is bundled with the server operating systems.

Specifically, F5 said that the BIG-IP product line will provide intelligent load balancing and high availability for ISA Server. The BIG-IP implementation used with ISA Server will direct user requests only to properly functioning ISA Servers, add security layers to the infrastructure, and enable automated administration and maintenance of multi-server ISA implementations.

Jeff Pancottine, senior vice-president of marketing and business development at F5 Networks, said in a statement, "By working closely with Microsoft, we can ensure customers that our companies' products are not only compatible but, when deployed together, also deliver a robust and optimized solution for managing IP-based traffic, applications and Web services with enterprise-class security."

Microsoft played up the customer angle. "The interoperability between F5's BIG-IP and Microsoft ISA Server is a significant development for our joint enterprise customers," Nevet Basker, Microsoft director of business development for ISA Server, said in a statement.

According to a Meta Group research report published in November, hardware load balancing is the way of the future.

"Scalable switch-based products have emerged as the primary architecture (over software or appliances) to handle the increased data center workload. We expect this trend to continue as vendors move toward even more scalable chassis-based products (2002/03)," Meta Group analyst Peter Firstbrook wrote in the report.

"Native software-based load balancing (e.g., IBM, MSFT) still dominates in the application server and database tier, but by 2003/04 hardware/switch-based solutions will be sufficiently intelligent to provide stateful failover (via open APIs such as F5's iControl) for application servers and potentially databases," Firstbrook predicted.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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